RealBiog – a brief concept statement

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    Adam Mrozowicki
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    RealBiog – a brief concept statement

    Prepared by Jeffrey David Turk and Adam Mrozowicki for the Realist Biography Workshop, Leuven, April 2009

    The purpose of this concept note is to provide an introductory melding of the ideas of some of the key proponents of Critical Realism/Realist Social Theory and biographical methods as a starting point for those same people and the other workshop participants can cooperatively develop their ideas in an intense and constructive manner leading to a toolbox for practical research (including a proposal) on European social dialogue. It is therefore not exhaustive of all contributions in the fields, but centres on and combines the work of the participants.

    For the purposes of the workshop we hope that Margaret Archer’s realist social theory (1995; 2003; 2007), can be used for a solid social scientific foundation for biographical methods, particularly since Archer’s (2003) internal conversation could be proposed as a real mechanism mediating between social structures and human agency. In addition, we hope to be able to use biographical methods (Chamberlayne, Bornat, & Wengraf, 2000; Miller, 2005; Schütze, 1983) in order to access and interpret the internal conversation as a key source of data for realist social science. We hope to construct an explicitly social realist foundation for research (Carter & New, 2004).

    We distinguish the three levels of: (1) real world, (2) data and (3) our models and beliefs about the real world that the data are used to check. Our task is to provide sufficient information to convince a
    presumed research community employing a similar realist framework that our findings go beyond mere correlations in data, but indeed have explanatory power at the level of the real world (Turk, 2009). Key to this approach is the problem of the perception of the subject matter under study – the issue of data acquisition for realist social science. In order to firmly ground our models and beliefs in the real lived social world, we have to have an approach to data acquisition that makes this possible.

    We start with the hypothesis that there is an internal conversation (Archer, 2003) that acts as a real causal mechanism mediating between social structures and human agency. It is this mediating mechanism in action that we wish to probe as accurately as possible as an explanatory source for the social dynamics at play in EU policy processes at the various levels where European social dialogue comes into play. During the workshop we will discuss the applicability of two variants of biographical methods to study the reflexivity as the mediating mechanism: (1) the pioneering approach to the analysis of biographical process structures developed by Fritz Schütze (1977), who has remained one of the key figures of biographical research; and (2) the Biographical Narrative Interpretive Method (BNIM) as described in Wengraf (2001), which traces its roots to the work of Gabriele Rosenthal (1995) and her colleagues from the QUATEXT group in Berlin. We take the spontaneous, minimally directed narratives from our informants as perhaps reflecting (not perfectly, but with some degree of accuracy) their internal conversations at play during the episodes they narrate. We assume that the actual life course influences the way that events and perceptions are recounted in the story, while the way the personal story is constructed is a reflection of the internal conversation active in the way a given real actor makes her way through the world (Archer, 2007), which in turn has real impact back on the world in which that person operates.

    Naturally the analysis of individual interviews out of context is not sufficient: the interviews must be placed into their socio-historical context. For our purposes, the socio-historical context we choose to study is the development of supranational institutions at the European level and the social dialogue that is supposed to keep those institutions in contact with and responsive to the workers and citizens of the EU Member States. Applications of biographical methods in a critical realist framework are already in use for industrial relations research (Mrozowicki & Van Hootegem, 2008; Mrozowicki, Pulignano & Van Hootegem, 2009). Biographical methods are also in use in an ongoing study of the integration of officials from the new member states in the EU institutions (Bajuk Senčar, 2009). It is therefore a great pleasure for those of us doing practical research in this area to be part of a workshop where some of the giants in these fields will be discussing how to strengthen its methodological underpinnings.

    Works Cited

    Archer, M. S. (1995). Realist social theory: the morphogenetic approach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
    Archer, M. S. (2003). Structure, agency and the internal conversation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
    Archer, M. S. (2007). Making our way through the world: human reflexivity and social mobility. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
    Bajuk Senčar, T. (2009). The integration of “East” and “West”: Slovene “Eurocrats” and the politics of identity within the institutions of the European Union. Traditiones (forthcoming).
    Carter, B., & New, C. (Eds.). (2004). Making Realism Work: Realist Social Theory and Empirical Research. London: Routledge.
    Chamberlayne, P., Bornat, J., & Wengraf, T. (Eds.). (2000). (eds.) The turn to biographical methods in social science. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.
    Miller, R. L. (Ed.). (2005). Biographical research methods (Vols. I-IV). London, UK: Sage.
    Mrozowicki, A., & Van Hootegem, G. (2008). Unionism and Workers’ Strategies in Capitalist Transformation: The Polish Case Reconsidered. European Journal of Industrial Relations, 14 (2), 197-216.
    Mrozowicki, A., Pulignano, V., & Van Hootegem, G. (2009). Reinvention of Activism: a Chance for Union Renewal in New Market Economies?- The Case of Poland. In G. Gall, Union Organising – Current Practice, Future Prospects. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.
    Rosenthal, G. (1995). Erlebte und erzählte Lebensgeschichte. Gestalt und Struktur biographischer Selbstbeschreibungen. Frankfurt am Main: Campus.
    Schütze, F. (1977). Die Technik des narrativen Interviews in Interaktionsfeldstudien. . Arbeitsberichte und Forschungsmaterialien Nr. 1 der Universität Bielefeld, Fakultät für Soziologie.
    Schütze, F. (1983). Biographieforschung und narratives Interview. Neue Praxis , 3, 283-294.
    Turk, J. D. (2009). Traction in the world: economics and narrative interviews. International Journal of Green Economics , 3 (1), 77-92.
    Wengraf, T. (2001). Qualitative research interviewing: biographic narratives and semi-structured methods. London: Sage.

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